Tangible and Intangible – Business Definitions and Use

Tangible and intangible are terms with several different meanings. A lot of well educated folks have a difficult time providing an all inclusive definition. Someone once described tangible as ‘something that can be burned’. Well, land is tangible and yet, you can’t burn it. But the best overall definition for these terms that I heard was a synonymous statement made by a Supreme Court Justice when trying to define pornography in relation to art. He said something along the line of ‘I don’t have a definition, but I just know it when I see it’. Basically the gray area for the definition is vast. This is true for these two terms because there are various levels of definitions related to their respective use.  

There is the classic college textbook definition. It is straight forward, but it doesn’t really begin to get involved in the gray area definitions. Then there is the more extended definition as used in accounting and customarily in the traditional business setting. Really getting into higher thinking and use of the terms comes into play when discussing value. Finally, there is the relationship to each other with regards to economics and the evolving concept of wealth. They are similar to the theory of the Yin and the Yang of life itself.  

The following sections describe these various levels of use. For most readers, they’ll be satisfied with the textbook answer. For those of you desiring to reach a higher level of understanding of these two terms and their respective relationship with each other – continue reading. When you have finished, you’ll appreciate the proper use of tangible and intangible especially in the proper context and how sophisticated business people express themselves using tangible and intangible. 

Tangible and Intangible – Textbook Definition 

The college textbook answer is relatively straight forward. The following is

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